Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Secondhand smoke and children

Poked & Prodded recently posted this commentary, Should smoking around kids be illegal? In my ideal world, smoking would be illegal - period. So should smoking around kids be illegal - definitely! But is that going to happen? I don't think so.
Unfortunately we have selfish parents who smoke in the presence of children, and here is why this is so troubling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the effects of secondhand smoke (SHS) are down, and this most likely is in part to the smoking bans in public places. Good news, right? Well, sort-of. While the effects of SHS are down, they are down very little in children. As the CDC reported, “The primary source of SHS exposure for children is the home; therefore, eliminating smoking in workplaces and public places is less likely to reduce children’s exposure to SHS.” Poked & Prodded put it best, "Ironically, laws designed to protect nonsmokers against involuntary exposure to SHS don’t extend to the most vulnerable. It’s even possible that cigarettes not smoked in restaurants and bars are smoked at home—around kids."
Yikes! This is not good. Of course I do not suggest that we reverse the smoking bans, but what can we do? How do we protect our children from SHS?
As a School Counselor, I always enjoyed educating elementary school students on the effects of smoking. Their reactions were equally impassioned and innocent. I used to show an enlarged picture of a cigarette, and pictured around the cigarette were various chemicals that were found in a cigarette. I would then talk about these different chemicals. For example, methane is one chemical found in a cigarette. I would say, "methane gas is also found in sewers where our toilet waste ends up." The kids thought this was so repulsive that many of them would hold their mouths as if they were going to puke. One six-year-old said, "that is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard - toilet waste in a cigarette? Disgusting!" And that's the great thing about kids. They have no problem going home and telling their mom or dad or aunt or grandpa that what they are doing is disgusting and gross. 
But I also understand how very difficult it is to stop smoking. That is why I am such a believer in educating our children from a very young age, because once someone starts smoking, it is extremely difficult to stop. I do not support abstinence education. I have yet to find quality and unbiased research that supports abstinence education. Rather I believe in education and information. The truth sticks with a person a lot longer than a "just say no" campaign. If "just say no" worked, then my generation, the "just say no" generation, would be free of smoking addictions, alcoholism and premarital pregnancy, and well, my generation is FULL of those things.
I have a few parent-friends who smoke. They are really amazing people who happen to have an addiction. I appreciate them so much because I have never seen any of them smoke in front of their kids. They always go outside or into the garage when they need a cigarette. Sure, their kids know that when mommy goes outside she is going outside to smoke, but at least my friends are trying to protect their kids. And equally important, my friends don't want to be smokers. Like so many, they have tried and tried to quit, and unfortunately, nothing has worked - yet. Maybe one day their kids will come home from school and say, "did you know that a cigarette has toilet waste in it?" And that will be the last cigarette they ever smoke.

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